The AV MBA, pt 3: S.W.O.T. It Out

I was recently asked to prepare a business plan. It is something I really enjoy doing, but not something I do often. In M.B.A. courses, the components of a proto-typical business plan are covered ad nauseam, and there are A LOT of steps to preparing one. Executive Summary, Situation Analysis, Target Markets, Demographics, Trends, Competition, Product Offering, Mix, Forecast, Strategies, Tactics. The list goes on. And on… I’ll be honest, it was great to learn and be exposed to the “generally accepted” principles of building a business plan, but in practice, I only use a handful of them in my role. By far, the S.W.O.T. Analysis is my “go-to.”

Kotler Keller definitions
Kotler Keller illustration close up
Kotler Keller diagram

(Yes, I have kept my old textbooks…)

So why the S.W.O.T.? First, it’s fun to say, “SWOT!” But really, I use it as a tool to help me come up with a systematic, structured approach to making strategic decisions. It can be used in a variety of scenarios outside of the formal Business Plan. Honestly, you could apply the S.W.O.T. to almost any problem or decision in life and it would be helpful.

But I digress, this is an AV blog, not a life coaching session. So how can we apply the S.W.O.T. outside the Business Plan?

Let’s consider the following scenario:

You just met with a prospective client that is considering upgrading their large staff training room to an Executive Conference Center. They have a large projector and 180-inch screen installed currently, and when in use, they have controlled overhead lighting to darken the room and accommodate the projection screen. This is fine for training sessions, but for executive sessions, the room will need to accommodate conferencing and collaboration, so having the lights turned down is not practical. In addition, a new training space will not be added, and the client would still like to be able to use the room to hold trainings when necessary. We need to design a space that includes the necessary technology, furniture, and layout that will accommodate the new environmental demands. Here is how we can apply the S.W.O.T. as a decision-making aid — or S.W.O.T. it out.

Executive Conference Center – Current State

S.W.O.T. Analysis table

As illustrated above, the S.W.O.T. provides a vessel to flesh out the pros and cons in a systematic way, that allows for creative solutions to arise. In this example, the strategy and tactics may look something like this:

meeting room displaysStrategy:

  • Create a high-end, executive conference room that leverages an aesthetically and technologically elevated environment to encourage collaboration and creativity.

Tactics:

  • Replace the existing projection system with a large-format, 21:9 dvLED display to eliminate lighting challenges and accommodate the MS Teams Front Row platform.
  • Install Modular furniture to accommodate several layouts and meeting formats.
  • Commission a Teams compatible video conferencing and unified communications system that includes PTZ cameras and overhead mics to allow for remote participation.
  • Remove window shades to accentuate skyline views and bring in ambient light to elevate the meeting room environment.

This is, of course, a bit of a crude example, but it demonstrates how the S.W.O.T. can be brought into the planning and decision-making process in a myriad of situations outside of the formal business plan.

I appreciate you taking some time out of your day to S.W.O.T. it out with me!

Here is a great S.W.O.T. resource: https://www.investopedia.com/terms/s/swot.asp

Tom Keefe BDM
About the Author

Tom Keefe | CTS, DMC-D-4K, DSCE

Category Manager – dvLED

Supported Manufacturers: Direct View LED

The AV MBA, pt 2: A Guide to Networking for the AV Professional

For a long time, I considered “networking” to be an extra-curricular activity that was not worth the investment of my time. I’m the type of person that craves immediate gratification, and I viewed networking as a long game. Finally, I don’t consider myself an extrovert, and the idea of proactively going out and developing relationships with people I didn’t know was intimidating. One person apart from a group of people

It wasn’t until started a new job in my mid-thirties that required me to network that I really gave it a second thought. My new role required me to build a book of business from the ground up in my local region. I was tasked with identifying new and upcoming AV projects and positioning myself to win those contracts. I had always worked on a national scale, so this was my first foray into focusing my efforts locally. The reality set in that I had been living and working in the same place my entire life and I had never taken the time to grow my local network. Better late than never…

welcome messageI needed to act fast, so I began joining every group that would have me! I joined the board of directors for my college Alma Mater, reached out to my friend that ran a large, local non-profit and got involved, contacted several local Chambers of Commerce and began attending meetings, researched when municipal planning board meetings would be taking place, and attended them armed with business cards. I even got in touch with a friend of mine in the metalwork industry who introduced me to the membership chair of two of the area’s largest construction trade associations.

Fast-forward to today, and I’ve pared down the number of groups I’m actively involved in. However, I don’t regret the aggressive approach as it gave me the confidence to go out and spread my networking wings. I’m proud to say that I have embraced networking on both the professional and personal level, and it has enriched my life exponentially.

To begin, let’s define what I mean by “networking” in the professional world:

networking diagramWhat is Networking?

  • Per Investopedia: The exchange of information and ideas among people with a common profession or special interest, usually in an informal social setting.
  • My definition: An opportunity to build professional relationships with different groups of people and expand your personal brand across a targeted group, industry, or field.

What isn’t networking?

  • The chance to make your sales pitch to prospective customers.
  • A short-term endeavor that delivers immediate returns.

Why do people network?

The key to success in almost every professional endeavor starts and ends with people. Successful people understand that they can’t achieve their goals on their own. They must rely on their team. Think of your network as your expanded team. All the people in your network are a part of your team, and you are a part of theirs.

Next, let’s look at why we should invest our time and effort into building our network.

  • The most obvious reason is to grow our business or our professional career. The good news is that developing professional relationships generally helps us with both specifically.
  • Establishing your professional brand in the industry, group, or professional community you are networking in. For example, my goal was to become the “Audio Video Guy” that came to mind for the entire Western New York region. Today, my goal is to be the “DVLED Guy” for the Pro AV Industry.

E4 Experience 2023 with Tom Keefe and Gary KayyeFinally, I’d like to address how to go about developing a professional network.

National / Industry

Attending trade shows and industry events is a great way to meet new people with similar goals. Personally, I prefer smaller scale events as they allow for more personal, one-on-one engagement. The next time you’re at a big trade show, pay attention to opportunities to connect with others at satellite parties and happy hours. If you are visiting a vendor booth, ask the representative your are speaking with if they have plans for the evening. Many times, vendors will host small events outside of floor hours to engage with prospective customers.

Local / Industry (AV Related)

  • Trade Associations
    • BOMA: Building Owners and Managers Association
    • Local Construction Exchanges
    • Municipal Planning Board Meetings
  • Create your own local AV Networking group

By working in the local AV industry in my home city of Buffalo, NY, I was able to make great connections through trade associations, like CONEX Buffalo and BOMA Buffalo. Exchanges similar to these can be found in cities all across the country. They typically hold monthly events that attract folks from all industries that serve construction projects. Not only will you be able to meet individuals from complementary fields (construction companies, electricians, office furniture suppliers, etc.), but you will be able to form relationships with the customers as well through groups like BOMA.

Additionally, I formed a group of local AV professionals in my area (vendors, integrators, distributors, and reps) and we would meet periodically over lunch or coffee to share any relevant news of projects we were working on or trends we were seeing.

Local / Professional

  • Chamber of Commerce
  • Boards – private companies, municipal, academic, non-profit
  • Charitable Foundations

While not directly related to the AV field, just meeting local professionals, and letting them know that I worked in AV would often spark up conversations. Everyone has experienced issues with AV and tech in general, and they are often quick to bring up stories. As the adage goes, every challenge presents an opportunity.

Social Media

Keeping up your professional presence on social media is important. The chances are, you frequent LinkedIn, Facebook, or Instagram on a regular basis. These platforms draw a lot of attention, but it’s a crowded space! By commenting on colleague posts and creating your own posts, you draw attention to your profile. I try to ensure that most of my posts are at minimum related to the industry I work in and preferably, directly related to my niche. The more often that I post, the better the chance that an industry peer or colleague will think of me in the future when they have an opportunity related to my field of expertise.

A few other points:

  • Networking can be awkward. That’s OK. Chances are it’s a little uncomfortable for the rest of the group too. What helps me is to remember that we’re all there for the same purpose.
    • It’s reciprocal. If you only come to the party to take and you never give, you won’t be invited to many more parties! Focus on how you can help others without expecting anything in return.
    • Patience is required. Relationships don’t develop overnight, and you can’t force them. You will need to invest your time, attention, and interest in others.
    • Proactivity is key. It is what you make it. If you go and don’t make any connections, you get nothing. If you make connections and don’t follow up, you get little. If you make connections, ask them if they would like to continue talking over coffee sometime and follow up, then you’re on the road to a relationship!

    Wherever you are on your networking journey, I hope this information gives you some ideas. As always, feel free to reach out to me directly on LinkedIn and we can continue the conversation!

    Tom Keefe BDM

    About the Author

    Tom Keefe | CTS, DMC-D-4K, DSCE

    Business Development Manager – Brand Specialist

    Supported Manufacturers: Absen

    The AV MBA: Using Basic Data Analysis to Drive Decision Making

    BizDev for shortI’m in Business Development, or “Biz Dev” for short. It’s sometimes a difficult role to describe when people ask! I’ll take a stab at an answer…

    My job is to figure out and execute ways to improve the overall performance of a particular product or service. It’s not just about selling. Selling a product or service is an entirely different skill. I’m more of a facilitator. I’m interested in setting the stage to achieve incremental growth. It’s important that the sales team has a clear and simple understanding of what we are selling and what makes that product or service great. Additionally, helping a customer realize why a product or service is different and valuable in a competitive market and how it can solve their problems is key to the role.

    Finally, I want to be a champion for the vendor and help spread their message to the target audience. Data analysis is a critical tool that I must employ to achieve these objectives.

    Now you may not be a Business Development Manager by title, but I promise you, if you work in a business, you are practicing Business Development on some level every day.

    I love spreadsheets. One of my favorite things to do in my professional world is to sit down with a huge spreadsheet of random data, organize it, cut it up, isolate it, and find new, actionable pieces of information that I had no idea existed. You need some basic skills with spreadsheets and computing, but the real trick is asking your data the right questions. The program does all the heavy lifting, while I’m left with new insights that lead to more sound decisions.

    love spreadsheetsArmed with a few basic tools, I’m able to summarize trends and figures that answer questions like, “How can I be more profitable?” “What can I do to grow my revenue?” “Can I be more efficient by cutting out certain activities that don’t produce adequate results?” “Where should I focus my time for the greatest return?” And, perhaps most importantly, “what’s working and what’s not?”

    For this discussion, I’ve picked one of the most basic goals of all to showcase some examples of how I might use data analysis to formulate a plan to achieve it.

    Goal: Increase Sales 

    To achieve any goal, we need to develop a strategy. 

    Start with collecting the data. To find out where we’re going, we need to first see where we’ve been! Let’s run a report of all sales for a given period (say the last 12 months). Got it? Great. Next step…

    organized dataOrganize the data. What data are we interested in evaluating? Let’s look at customer name, location, revenue, profit, products sold, date (month). Next step…

    Isolate the data. This is where we start getting creative. Let’s make a pivot table. This will allow us to pair up, parse out, and split our “big data” into “little data” (example: breaking down total annual sales revenue into monthly sales revenue).

    Analyze the data. Our “big data” showed that we sold (revenue) $1,000,000 of product line X in the previous 12 months. That’s an average of $83,333 per month. However, our “little data” shows that we sold $500,000 in January and $0 in December. So, while our average (mean) sales were $83,333 per month, our median (middle number) and mode (most frequent number) were only $50,000 per month. With that in mind, our average sales don’t reflect our reality.

    Draw conclusion. If we want to grow our sales next year, we need to sell more than $83,333 every month. As of now, we usually (mode) sell $50,000 every month. Therefore, we need to sell around an additional $33,333 most months to ensure that we grow our sales in the next 12 months.

    Define strategy. To increase our sales, we can either sell-more-to current customers OR sell-to-more new customers. Let’s assume the market is flat and our salespeople are doing a great job servicing their existing customers. That means we need to sell-to-more new customers.

    Thus, our strategy is defined, to increase sales, we must find new customers. 

    Select Tactics. This is the fun part. Here are some examples of tactics to find new customers:

    • More Data Analysis – Going back to our report, what regions are the strongest and, conversely, where do we have opportunities to grow market share? Let’s focus on those weaker regions.
    • Prospecting
      • Outbound call campaignspresenting-data-analysis
      • LinkedIn
      • Tradeshows
      • Referrals
    • Marketing
      • Advertising
      • Email campaigns
      • Social media content
    • Increasing capacity
      • Hiring additional sales personnel
      • Upgrading CRM
      • Outsourcing

    After some discussion with the team, the desired tactics are narrowed down. It is decided that while adding salespeople would be preferred, it isn’t in the budget. So, our existing sales team will commit to setting aside time to call 10 prospects every week in underserved regions, and a sales contest is added to encourage activity. Additionally, there is enough budget in Sales to upgrade the existing CRM that will add a new tool that manages and tracks call campaigns, so the company elects to invest in that upgrade to support the sales team. And finally, Marketing has some budget available, and improving the company’s presence on social media will offer benefits beyond just sales, so a job post will be put online for a new Social Media Manager.

    This is a very basic example, but it illustrates how an entire strategic initiative can be born out of analyzing data. I’ve included some links below to help you, and in the next edition, I will go into the art and skill of prospecting for new opportunities.

    1. Analyze Data in Excel
    2. Data Driven Decision Making (Article from Harvard Business School)
    3. Step-by-Step Guide to Creating a Pivot Table
    Tom Keefe BDM

    About the Author

    Tom Keefe | CTS, DMC-D-4K, DSCE

    Business Development Manager – Brand Specialist

    Supported Manufacturers: Absen

    Breaking Down DVLED part 5 – First Things First

    Part 4: First Things Frist

    Topic: The importance of proper site prep.

    I remember working in the garage as a kid with my dad, and it seemed like 80% of the time we were cleaning up and 20% of the time we were actually working on a project. He would always say, “a clean workspace is a safe workspace!”

    I didn’t really appreciate that wisdom then, but I do now.

    Whether you are hanging and banging a 50-inch LCD display in a conference room or installing and commissioning a 220-inch LED video wall in an auditorium, the same wisdom applies in terms of making sure the site is ready, all the tools for the job are on hand, and the project punch list is ready to execute.

    For dvLED displays, the site prep requirements are pretty rigid, and for good reason. I’m going to discuss a few universal requirements that you will run into on almost every dvLED project.

    To begin, often times a tech will be scheduled to come onsite to assist with or even perform the installation. They are typically slated to be onsite for a limited window of time. It is the integrators responsibility to ensure that everything is ready for them to jump in and start working when they arrive to the site. Delays could be cause for extending the time required for the tech to be onsite. This usually leads to change orders. And we all know how much our customers dislike those!

    Another important site requirement spec that you will undoubtedly run into are power and data requirements. Big walls require more power, and as such, this requires more outlets. AV integrators aren’t electricians, so it’s critical to have the proper spec requirements in advance to provide to the end user. Fortunately, many vendors, such as Absen and others, provide this information via written specs and technical drawings.

    voltage-diagram

    One of the most important considerations when installing a dvLED video wall is the actual wall surface that it is mounting to. Since dvLED walls are made up of multiple cabinets and modules and are, by nature, designed to be seamless, it is very important to ensure that there are no seams! This is why you will often see requirements for cabinet or marine grade plywood backing. At minimum, BC Sanded One-Side will be required to ensure that the X-axis is completely flat and true. Considering the cost of the video wall, the extra investment in some plywood is a small price to pay to ensure the wall is perfect.

    Finally, you need a plan to dispose of all the waste that is left behind. A typical video wall might ship in four or five large wooden crates, with dozens of large cartons and packages enclosed. This can result in a literal mountain of trash. Have a plan to remove this from this site as you go. A cluttered work area is a hazardous work. So as a wise man once said, “a clean workspace is a safe workspace.” Thanks dad…

    This concludes my five-part series on Breaking Down DVLED. I hope you have found these articles useful, and I encourage you all to reach out to me directly if you have dvLED projects on the horizon that I can assist you with.
    Check out my other installments if you haven’t already:

    Part 1: Got Spares?
    Topic: The importance of having spares when purchasing / commissioning a DVLED video wall.

    Part 2: Cabinets and Modules and Panels, Oh My!!!
    Topic: The anatomy of a DVLED video wall.

    Part 3: Perfect Pitch
    Topic: The importance of selecting the right pixel pitch the first time

    Part 4: The First Step in Installing a DVLED Video Wall is Admitting You Need Help
    Topic: Commissioning Assistance and Why it’s Important.

    Tom Keefe BDM

    About the Author

    Tom Keefe | CTS, DMC-D-4K, DSCE

    Business Development Manager – Brand Specialist

    Supported Manufacturers: Absen

    Breaking Down DVLED part 4 – The 1st Step in Installing a DVLED Video Wall is admitting you need help

    Part 4: The First Step in Installing a DVLED Video Wall is Admitting You Need Help

    Topic: Commissioning Assistance and Why it’s Important.

    asking for helpI’m one of those people who always says “no” to any extras when I make a big purchase. I sometimes feel bad for the finance guy at the car dealership, because I know from the onset that he isn’t going to sell me on a single extra service or add-on. It’s a painful ten minutes of me smiling and saying, “That sounds great! No thank you.” If there was a poster child for the adage, “Men never ask for directions,” I’d be it. To be honest, I just feel like I’m capable and I can figure things out for myself. Admittedly, this approach has rendered mixed results at best…

    misaligned digital signage contentThis brings me to the topic of this edition of Breaking Down DVLED, The First Step in Installing a DVLED Video Wall is Admitting you Need Help!

    If you have been selling DVLED for any length of time, you will be sure to have noticed that vendors are often rigid with their installation requirements. Some require the integrator to complete a certification course, usually onsite and over the course of a couple of days, in order to sell their product. Some even require that their service technicians commission the entire project. At minimum, most vendors require that one of their service technicians or a certified individual be onsite to assist and oversee the installation. This is generally an additional paid service, but there are some instances where the service is included. Finally, a few vendors will waive the requirement to have a branded or certified technician onsite, but will require that an add-on insurance-type fee be paid to cover any damage during installation by the integrator.

    To many integrators, all the above can seem unpalatable. My goal here is to educate you on why this type of hands-on service is not only necessary, but more importantly, a critical component to ensuring the project is completed in the most cost-efficient manner. It really just boils down to the concept of, “Time is Money.”

    time-is-money

    First, let’s clarify what onsite service includes. In most cases, there are two types of service offered for DVLED installation, “guided” and “full service.” Full service is self-explanatory, a full crew handles all aspects of the installation and commissioning of the wall. Service like this can be obtained by working with Exertis Almo Services or, in limited cases, the vendor. Guided, onsite installation support, like what is offered by brands such as Absen and others, consists of a single technician coming onsite to lead the integration. This individual will typically be hands-on in all aspects of the labor side, and perform any necessary programing, setup, and training for the integrators team and the end user. This service guarantees that the job will be completed on-time, and that any potential snags are dealt with expediently. Having a branded technician assist with the installation also provides liability protection to the integrator in the event of any mishaps or product damage that occurs during the project under the umbrella of warranty coverage.

    So how does this relate to “Time is Money?” In almost all cases, when having a designated vendor technician onsite, you do not have to expend any of your own human capital on line-items, such as labor or programming. Additionally, an onsite vendor tech will cut hours if not days from the installation time, and the end-user will have a great experience in terms of product training and support from the vendor. This reflects positively on the integrator, thereby promoting repeat business. Finally, a vendor technician will ensure that everything is tested before leaving the job to avoid any unnecessary returns to the jobsite to address anything that was potentially missed during the installation process.

    All these benefits, taken together, equate to a world-class level of service, a better customer experience, and fewer headaches—that always cost money—down the road. It is important to remember that a DVLED wall has exponentially more components than a traditional LCD wall and it is far easier to damage LED modules than a prebuilt LCD display. DVLED is also a relatively new technology and most integrators have not yet established the learning curve benefits that come with repeated commissioning. By having a trained and qualified vendor onsite, the integrators team essentially receives free, hands-on training that can be applied to future projects.

    installation team

    In summary, whether you are a consummate skeptic like me and always say “no” to offers for additional assistance or are simply someone who is confident in their abilities based on experience, the benefits of accepting qualified help for DVLED installations is not only necessary, but essential to maximizing your bottom line.

    That’s all for now. Stay tuned for my next installment of Breaking Down DVLED:

    Part 5: First Things First
    Topic: The importance of proper site prep and conducting a proper site survey

    Check out my other installments if you haven’t already:

    Part 1: Got Spares?
    Topic: The importance of having spares when purchasing / commissioning a DVLED video wall.

    Part 2: Cabinets and Modules and Panels, Oh My!!!
    Topic: The anatomy of a DVLED video wall.

    Part 3: Perfect Pitch
    Topic: The importance of selecting the right pixel pitch the first time

    Tom Keefe BDM

    About the Author

    Tom Keefe

    Business Development Manager

    Supported Manufacturers: Absen

    Pin It on Pinterest